A rare excursion into comedy for the king of the curled lip, Bogart, but he proves that he could handle a comic line with the same aplomb he showed when handling a gun. Based on a French play (and having nothing to do with the 1953 Bella and Samuel Spewack play "My Three Angels," although
both credit Husson's play as their source), it's a little too talky for its own good and one wishes that there might have been a bit more cinematic action, but the performers are all delicious and the fun they were having is evident in every frame. Bogart, Ustinov, and Ray escape Devil's Island.
All three are life-termers, with Bogart having been incarcerated for forgery and Ray and Ustinov being convicted killers. Ray keeps a pet poisonous snake, Adolphe, and brings him along as they flee the prison on Christmas Eve. In order to mask their identities, they must secure new clothing and
plan to steal the togs from the store owned by Carroll and his spouse, Bennett. Their daughter is Talbott. Carroll thinks that they are paroled convicts who have been sent to his place to help fix their leaking roof. Once the criminals meet Carroll and family, they are immediately taken by their
charm and naivete and decide that robbing and killing this lovely family might spoil their Christmas. It isn't long before the hoodlums spot how badly Carroll is running his business and how they might make it operate more efficiently. Rather than race away (and hoping to have a place to hide
until the heat's off), they remain at Carroll's and put the place in order. In no time, the bills, long overdue, are being paid off, customers are charmed into buying items they never thought they needed, and the whole place is running like a well-oiled clock. Now they learn that Carroll doesn't
own the store but merely manages it for his nasty relative, Rathbone, who arrives with nephew Baer on a surprise visit to audit the store's books. Carroll has been no great shakes at keeping records and Rathbone believes that Carroll has been siphoning off money. Rather than allow the villainous
Rathbone to press charges against Carroll, the escapees believe they must take matters into their own hands. Ray puts Adolphe into a basket and Rathbone, in his foraging for evidence, makes the mistake of sticking his hand in that basket. The result is a bite and instant death (although that
occurs offscreen). Baer enters and finds Rathbone dead and, being the greedy type, Baer begins to search through Rathbone's pockets. Instead of money, Baer finds Adolphe, who takes a bite of him and the result is two down, none to go. With them out of the way, Carroll, Bennett, and Talbott have
inherited the store and the rest of Rathbone's holdings, and all problems are apparently solved, except for finding an acceptable suitor for Talbott. Fate enters with the appearance of Smith, a medical officer, who is immediately attracted to Talbott. Their work complete, the convicts decide to
leave the island and make for freedom on the mainland, but they begin to have misgivings about the way life is outside the prison and choose to go back behind bars.
The film's a bit macabre in spots but good fun most of the way. Bogart, Ray, and Ustinov worked well together opposite Carroll and Bennett. Since the deaths of Rathbone and Baer happen away from the audience's eyes, the movie won't frighten anyone who is repelled by murder and/or snakes. Bogart
and Ustinov became good friends while making this. Bogart would star in three more films before his death at 58 in January, 1957. Ustinov stayed away from Hollywood for four years before returning. He never liked the place and called it "a gigantic world's fair they haven't had the time to tear
down." Curtiz had also directed Ustinov's earlier movie, THE EGYPTIAN.
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